Today’s Georgia Primary: What to Watch

Today’s big race is the crowded Republican primary for Governor. It almost definitely will go to an August 10 runoff, so the important thing is not just who wins tonight but who comes in second and makes it to the next round. Four Republicans–former Secretary of State Karen Handel, former Rep. Nathan Deal, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and former state Sen. Eric Johnson–have a conceivable chance to make it to the runoff.

Polling has been all over the place, but in the last few days Handel has surged into the lead while onetime front-runner Oxendine has been dropping fast. Sarah Palin’s endorsement benefited Handel, and she’ll probably win the most votes tonight. Handel’s conservative reformer message and fast, late rise after Palin’s endorsement will no doubt lead to many comparisons with South Carolina GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley.

In the Democratic primary for Governor, former Gov. Roy Barnes has a massive lead over his nearest rival, Attorney General Thurbert Baker. The only question is whether he can win more than 50 percent and nab the nomination outright.

House Races

4th–Incumbent Hank Johnson is facing both Vernon Jones (who admitted to voting for George W. Bush twice) and Connie Stokes in the Democratic primary. Johnson has been under attack for his remarks about Guam possibly “tipping over” if the government expands its military facilities there.

7th–John Linder is retiring from his bright red seat, creating a large field of Republican primary candidates. In this heavily Republican-leaning district, the GOP primary winner is almost assured to go to Congress.

8th–Democrat Jim Marshall represents a fairly red district, so Republicans are hoping to give him a run for his money in this bad political climate for Democrats. Marshall has been able to hold the seat for years. The well-financed GOP establishment pick, Austin Scott, is expected to win his primary tonight.

9th–Republican Nathan Deal stepped down as the Representative of the very conservative 9th district to run for Governor, causing a special election. Republican Tom Graves recently won it but faces a rematch in the Republican primary tonight against Lee Hawkins.

12th–Democrat John Barrow is again being challenged from his left by Regina Thomas. Barrow beat Thomas by a wide margin in the 2008 primary. This time, Thomas is hammering Barrow for his “no” vote on health care. Thomas, though, can’t match Barrow’s significant financial resources and spending.

The 12th and the 8th are the only two Georgia Congressional races that should be even nominally competitive in November, and they are still ranked as “likely Democratic” by the Cook Political Report. So the competitive Republican primary for the 12th District has some minor importance, but the Republican Party failed to recruit any top-tier candidates. If Barrow wins his primary as expected, he should be in good shape come November.